S1: I remember I was maybe six months into recovery, my girlfriend found a empty baggie of heroin as she was cleaning up and she looked like a ghost. I said to her, there’s nothing I can do except live the right way today to prove to you that I am still in recovery.
S2: And hopefully this will be something we talk about 20 years from now. And it is.
S3: Welcome to How To. I’m Charles Duing.
S4: Each week on the show, we try to help people overcome a problem in their lives. And today we’ve got a listener who has been working hard, really hard to make this massive change, but he’s worried that it won’t last.
S5: My name is Dave. I live in a small town, very small think southern Illinois and Shawnee National Forest.
S6: So I’d spend a lot of time hiking, camping, fishing, just the farm. But a lot of people know Jason for something else. I am an addict.
S7: Jason has struggled with drug addiction for over a decade, and primarily it’s been addiction to crystal meth, which is widely available in rural areas like where he lives. In Jason’s wife has also used meth. But despite that, they’ve been pretty responsible. Upstanding citizens did without jobs, and they weren’t good parents to their two kids. But then last year, the Department of Child and Family Services knocked on the door the day they showed up.
S8: We had gotten some pretty bad stuff and I guess we were acting differently or we were looking different. But somebody had notified this office and they shut up and knocked on our door.
S9: How old are your kids? 14 into an end, the state took both of them.
S10: Yeah, I thought I’d hit rock bottom a few times, but when DFS came and took our children, that was that was as rock bottom as I’ve ever felt.
S7: That was eight months ago. And Jason and his wife have been totally clean since then. They’re going to meetings and they’re doing everything they’re supposed to do to stay away from meth. And Jason believes this time is different, that they’ll stay clean.
S11: But he and his wife still have a long way to go to get their two boys back. When we spoke to Jason, it was a week before Christmas. So you need to stay clean to get your kids back. Mean Christmas is a little bit over a week away.
S12: Yeah. We’re gonna have a two hour visit to the after Christmas where we’re going to do Christmas here. So you’ve got a tree and we’ve got a whole bunch of presents underneath it.
S11: It sounds like things are moving in the right direction if you’re getting your kids taken, sort of forced you and your wife to be honest about the problem and to to quit and to get sober. Definitely. And so what’s the thing that you’re struggling with right now, getting past the stigma.
S12: So if we live in big city, this wouldn’t be so bad.
S13: When you were in a small town where everybody knows every time about your business, it’s very, very hard to get past your your past and around here, the stigma. Once an addict, always an addict, especially in math, this is what Jason’s struggling with and where he needs help.
S14: And it’s something that all of us at some point I’ve struggled with. Right. Because even if our habits don’t include drug use, we all at some point want to change. And the truth is, the change is always hard, particularly when we’re surrounded by people who remember all of our old bad ways. So how does Jason stay clean while living in this small town with a long memory? How can we move past his past when so many of the people around him think of him as just an addict? Finding the right answers to those questions might be the difference between getting his kids back or not. Stay with us.
S7: When I was writing my book, The Power of Habit, one of the biggest lessons I carried away from it was that the thing about bad habits is that they tend to sneak up on us. They they kind of occur without our permission, which is why changing them can be so hard and why it takes a certain approach. Our caller, Jason, for instance, is now 34, but he says he first started using meth as a teenager.
S15: I was put on Adderall as a child when I got older and in the middle school, I realized, oh, I take naps vs those real yet. Once I got out of school, it was hard to get them from my doctor. So I started using meth because it’s basically the same thing.
S8: No stronger is cheaper.
S7: Jason didn’t really think of himself as an addict, particularly because in his community low level drug use was pretty common. And when his first wife got pregnant in high school, he wanted to do the right thing.
S16: And so he dropped out of school and he got his g._e._d and he started working to support his family and he found that using meth seemed to help him do better at work.
S17: I’d get so much more done. I mean, I work it really moved me up the chain real, but they loved me together and I could do all this stuff. But, you know, and eventually he knew I was on it and didn’t do anything to stop it because I was getting stuff done.
S18: When did it turn bad? When did you start to realize that this is something that may not be good for you?
S17: I was doing a lot more. I was staying up a lot longer instead of, you know, two days. And there were five days. At eight days.
S19: You really start to lose your mind a little bit at that point.
S4: This experience of kind of accidentally becoming an addict and finding that at least at first, it’s easy not to think of yourself as an addict because you you’re keeping everything together and you’re being productive. Sometimes for years, it’s not actually all that unusual. In fact, the expert we reached out to to help Jason, he was a successful, productive person for a long time who also just happened to be using drugs on the side.
S20: So I was a outreach worker for street youth. So I was running around New York City handing out condoms to kids, giving them resources, trying to get them in care and get case management for street youth. It was easy to use. During that period, very similar to Jason, as you know, I would do my job. And then, you know, I’d go out with friends after and get high. And then I would use more and more.
S7: This is Fred Munch. He’s a psychologist and the president of the Center on Addiction, a nonprofit in New York City that works to help family members support people struggling with addiction. He’s also in recovery himself and has been for decades.
S1: How old were you when you started using heroin? The first time I used, I was 18.
S21: And how long? How long? Nine years. On and off. Yeah. Says a long time. You’re lucky to be alive.
S22: I’m lucky to be alive. You know, I was just listening to what you were saying about productivity. Right. Newton, everybody was excited. You’re working hard. You’re you’re doing a lot for them. The consequences weren’t there. Similar with heroin, which is if you’re not using a ton all the time, you can get by, you can get through the day and you’re really amenable because you don’t really care about anything. And it just got out of hand. I didn’t have the wakeup call. You did. I think I was too proud, too stubborn. Didn’t believe, didn’t didn’t sort of give myself up to understanding that this was way beyond me. Way beyond who I was. Every every time I would have a craving or a Q living in the East Village, in the city when there was a lot of drugs I would give in.
S7: Fred says at one point he fell into some money and he was buying up to 10 bags of heroin a day and he tried to get clean on his own, but he couldn’t make it stick. And so finally his girlfriend at the time broke up with him.
S22: She was someone who was trying to help me and probably was a little more allowing certain things that she probably shouldn’t have allowed. And that’s the thing similar to Jason. Yeah, I was not your classic person, even though I started selling stuff and and started to do those things, I was still someone who wanted to make dinner. You know, it’s not a typical scenario for me.
S10: For me. I hid it so well.
S23: And now, I mean, until I went off the rails, nobody knew. Everybody was shocked when I got arrested for methamphetamine.
S10: Nobody had any idea. Yep. I was using that.
S22: And you were productive, you’re one of the best workers, so, you know, people are not going to want to look at it while he’s doing a great job and even see it with drinking, which is people don’t want to acknowledge their friend who’s drinking way too much because of the life of the party. People start to acknowledge addiction when it affects their lives, when their house gets broken into. And stigma comes into play. And you’ve mentioned this, Georgia, very often of the uncertainty of people not knowing whether you’re going to relapse.
S24: Let’s talk about that stigma a little bit, cause. Have you found people who who react to you in a way that that say, you know, once a druggie, always a druggie?
S25: Yeah, I’ve got my own family. I know. This man gave almost.
S26: My own stepfather said basically that you once enjoy always jokey. And that I’d always be a rarity.
S24: How did that make you feel?
S27: Maybe one day riding high, Hennessy said he got it. You know, it’s cold right now. I got sinus issues here. And in fact, I mean, you know, just during that heat, high end or something like that, there’s always going to be people out there. But I can’t focus on those people. I know me. I know the truth about it.
S16: Do you feel like do you feel like you could move? Is that an option for you?
S28: I wish it was, but my feeling always is. Yeah. Almost puts you even though Jason is clean and he has a support system.
S29: He still feels as if he has to convince everyone over and over again that he’s actually changed this time. And sometimes he has to convince himself, too. We all feel this right, this this need to prove that we’ve actually changed the way that we say we have. And when we come back, Fred, we’ll talk about one of the hardest challenges of all, starting over when you’re in the same place.
S7: We’re back with Jason in our expert Fred Munch, and Jason is already doing a lot to maintain his recovery. First and foremost, by accepting his history of addiction. But as with any habit, you’re trying to change. There will be these days when you have cravings and you want to revert back to those old bad patterns.
S1: I acknowledge that this is real, except that you have a craving rather than trying to distract yourself. Say I’m having a craving because I want to feel better. I’m having this craving because it’s given me a reward in the past. I’m going to acknowledge and I’m going to accept it and acknowledging that in the short term you might get some benefit. But who you are in the long term, you will not get that benefit. But even more is building a life and building outside external reinforcers that will reinforce recovery.
S24: So let’s let’s target the fur for Jason in particular. So when he has those days that he he accepts that he is an addict and he accepts the craving is real. What practically does he need in his life? You think, to have those supports? What does that look like?
S1: The first thing is. Making effort to feel uncomfortable around other people, and it sounds like Jason’s doing this. It sounds like he’s going to meetings. It sounds like he’s going to treatment. He’s accepting that he doesn’t know everything and he’s learning to reach out and being effortful in the behavior by which you want to change.
S30: Here’s our first rule. Make an effort to do the uncomfortable things, have those hard conversations with your family or with strangers or even groups that normally you wouldn’t want anything to do with. If you tell them how you are trying to change, whether it’s kicking drugs or drinking less or even just eating better. Studies say that you’re more likely to actually commit to making the change become real.
S2: I remember in early recovery I was like, I feel like I’m going on a date, you know, is like at a diner or sitting talking to this guy. And I don’t really know you and I don’t know who you are. And then the thing that got me moving forward, it is is accepting that this is weird. Accepting that I’m reinventing myself and it’s awkward and it’s uncomfortable. But I know if I want to live tomorrow and be free of addiction, this is what I have to do. And so I created supports.
S1: And it sounds like Jason’s creating supports of people who, you know, will make you better.
S24: Jason, do you feel like you have those in your life?
S23: Yes, certainly I do. I don’t know that I’ll ever quit doing to meetings. And because that is one of my biggest supports, you know, and then I can go there and talk about how I’m feeling with these people. These people know me in ways nobody else ever will. When I was an inpatient program, a dealer that almost killed me with his bad stuff came in at the same time. And I wonder if that day she said, well, how about this? How about you go up and talk to.
S8: I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to fight at that point.
S24: But what was that conversation like when you when you approached this dealer who had sold you bad meth?
S8: Awkward. Very awkward. When you’re an inpatient, you go up to anybody new, you shake the hand, grip yourself, say, I’m glad you’re here. So that’s basically what I did.
S1: Chasten, what strikes me is your ability to go up to the dealer and do that with the support of confronting someone, and the other thing is, is making sure. Just like with this dealer is making sure people know you are on the path to recovery and you are in recovery and letting those people know who you used to use with that, you can’t be with them right now or or, you know, you don’t want to be around them. And what I’ve found is when I did that, people worse embraced me and said, I get it. And the fascinating things was the people who didn’t are the people exactly knew who I never wanted to have any contact with again.
S31: Here’s another rule. Acknowledge that you may have to surround yourself with new people. You may have to intentionally cut yourself off from people you know and sometimes people you love. If they’re tied to those bad habits from your past.
S32: How do I get myself into new shows with groups? Say I’m not you. I’ve never had friends that weren’t using you.
S33: And when I found now is I don’t have friends right now. Me mean, my wife saw it.
S34: We don’t we don’t have friends over because all the friends we used to have over are using or still you or, you know, they still use.
S33: I used to hang out my dealers all day off.
S34: And and since we’ve gone clean the last five months, we’ve been aside from going to work and coming home. That’s all we do.
S28: We don’t have these social skills anymore. I don’t know what life without drugs was like.
S35: If you can identify three or four people or even one or two people who you look up to or people that you want to engage with. That’s a great start. And my suggestion is, and you can do this with your wife is this month.
S36: Figure out one night where you’ll spend with a couple of people who you don’t know really well, but you’ll go and do something. And then slowly build that into your world. I remember after, you know, all I did, I didn’t know what to do. So as I mentioned, I went to meetings, but then I’d go out with people for coffee after the meetings and even after the meeting. That’s right. Yep.
S1: One other thing that strikes me is you mentioned you’re an outdoorsman. You like fishing, you like hiking. You like going in the woods and so identifying those rewarding behaviors. And it gets back to that effort of ensuring and planning for six months from now. What would you do today to make your life better six months from now, regardless of how uncomfortable you might feel? What might you do? Might you go to a meeting or some place that’s 20 or 30 miles away and go hiking or join a meetup group which are all over the country, even in small cities, essentially preparing yourself for the life you want to live. Around the things you love to do?
S37: Yeah. I had never thought about that. It’s surprising because before I before I was actually involved in a caving group.
S38: So we would meet up and go caving and we would go and map caves, you know, explore caves we hadn’t gotten to before. I loved the studio. I just haven’t been in years because my addiction kind of took over every aspect of my life. I ended up devoting all my energy to finding my fix for the day. Thank you for reminding me. I really hadn’t thought about it.
S24: And if you reached out to that group, the caving group.
S39: Did did they know you as an addict or did they just know you as GM?
S26: No. Now is Jason. That never knew me as an artist at all.
S39: What do you think would happen if you reached out to them now and said, look, like I’d love to start caving with you again? And and maybe some of them will ask like, why haven’t we seen you in a while? And you said, well, yeah, I was struggling, struggling with addiction, but now I’m clean and I want to pick up with you guys again.
S37: Yeah, I think that would be very they would be very like me to build this new support system, especially if you live in a rural area or a small town.
S30: You may have to travel a bit farther than usual or start chatting with people on line. The point here is to mix things up. Making new connections helps you reinvent yourself, which is a big part of building a new life. And that’s true for any kind of change. If you’re trying to exercise more, for instance, you should make new exercise friends haven’t despised.
S40: The best advice I’ve ever gotten because I really haven’t thought a whole lot of reinventing myself at all like I’ve thought about up until now.
S41: As you know, this isn’t the stigma that has to a man had. Don’t know how to get past it, but reinventing myself would give me past. It may not. Would it help? Certainly I would. It would. People would see that change.
S2: Jason. You want to achieve a lot in life and for your family. And that will come. All that will come with recovery. And to have that self-compassion that in six months, if you’re still in recovery, you’re working towards a plan to get your kids home. Wow. That’s amazing. That’s amazing. That’s that’s a huge one.
S42: That’s my first and foremost is just getting my kids right now.
S16: Here’s another rule for how to create lasting change when you can’t change your surroundings.
S43: Imagine what you want your life to be six months from now. Imagine who you want to be six months from now. And sometimes that imagined life just means you need to keep going.
S24: Fred had it. I mean, I imagine this is something you’ve thought a lot about and lived with. You’re you’re a successful guy, you’ve two kids, and yet there must still be people who know you as the guy they knew as an addict. Is that stigma something you live with? Or is it something that you can successfully ignore? Does it not matter?
S44: It matters less and less every day. And I say every day, not every year, but just every day. It matters less and less. It matters less and less because of the life I live and lead.
S7: Just let me ask you, has this been an issue in getting any jobs?
S23: No. It was. So I put in applications everywhere, you know.
S9: And I would tell my story that nobody would hire me until I got to Rhodes, where I met with the district manager.
S7: Rhodes is a gas station in town.
S8: He asked me my story. I told him I was crying in the middle, is still talking to him about this. His brother struggles with addiction. So he understood my struggle. He told me it sounds like I’m just looking for a break. And he gave me that break.
S23: You know, I don’t want my addiction to define me eventually. I know when I have to explain this to everybody to tell my story like that, but it is a part of who I am right now.
S1: And it’s great that he knows, because if you need to go to a meeting or you need to do something, really, he’ll be.
S23: They provide me that and my son as well, he said, because I told him right off the bat. I’m doing his job. I need this job. Desperate that I can’t not go to these meetings. I have to go. And he said he’d fire me if I didn’t.
S44: And rather than seeing that as a detriment, rather than seeing that as a weakness, I’ve embraced that. And when I start to embrace that as a strength, I find that other people start to look at it as a strength. This is who I am. I’m embracing it. I’m loving it. I’m owning it. I know that when I tell people I’m in recovery from heroin addiction, the reaction is amazing, like, oh, oh, you know, like they just don’t even know what to say. And that’s OK. I want to say that I want to let people know who I am. That’s how I overcome the stigma. But it takes time. I didn’t do that in early recovery. Put my head to the grindstone and worked. And I guarantee that over time, you’ll see that people focus on your recent past now your distant past.
S30: Here’s our final rule. As much as you may be reinventing yourself. You don’t have to hide who you really are. We change the most when we’re honest with ourselves and with others about our struggles. Talk about your experiences, use them as motivation, and the people who matter will recognize that you’re making progress. And that helps us become the person we want to be.
S45: I focus on the people who are giving me the positive feedback. Dorn’s who do believe in me. I focus on them more now.
S19: You know, they give me the motivation to keep going.
S45: And instead of making me because there was a point where I hope you aren’t, you think, oh, I know, I’ll show you. High is now. There was that in the past. But now instead of relapsing because of it, I just say falling for you. And you know, I move on.
S18: I think that’s such a great place for you to be. And it’s so hard. And you deserve so much admiration for being able to get to that place where you can say, I’m not going to let these other people bring me down. I’m not going to let their judgments weigh me down.
S42: No, I’m not going to change their mind overnight. You know, it can take years of being sober before they see that change. And that’s that.
S46: And at that time, I mean, I don’t blame them for that, because in cases that’s boy, it is around here. There’s a lot of people in the graveyard here that were a drug addict ever dated.
S45: Several friends of mine, you know, have died because of this.
S46: And sadly, there’s sort of an wake up calls for me, too. But for me to DCF is taking my kids for me to decide I need it. So.
S24: Jason, if you could tell your family one thing that you think would help, would help them help you. What would you tell them?
S10: Asking your question. I’m telling that. I’m not gonna be that guy forever.
S8: What I need from you is. Suppor. And, you know, just reminding me of what I can do.
S44: Jason, I’m I’m I’m so impressed with your thought process. I’m so impressed with how you’re approaching this. I’m so impressed that you can see that some of these consequences are blessings. I really do see great things for you. As you maintain recovery, as you maintain positivity and it’s been, you know, such a pleasure to have this time to speak with you.
S23: Likewise for you. You have been an inspiration to me, knowing your story and seeing where you’re at now compared to where you’re at.
S45: And his motivation for me.
S16: Thank you to Jason for sharing his story. And to Fred Munsch for his wonderful advice. If you’re dealing with addiction or you know someone who is. There’s a lot more information on how to help a drug free dawg. And just a quick update since we’ve talked to Jason. You know, the holidays have come and gone and we actually just got a note from him saying that the kids had a great Christmas, that his recovery is still going really well, and that if all goes according to plan, he and his wife will get their kids back in June. Do you have something we can help you with? Send us an e-mail at how to its slate.com and we might have you on the show. And also, if you could give us a five star rating and a review wherever you get your podcasts. We would really, really appreciate it. It really helps other people find the show, which hopefully means we can go out and help more people. How TOS executive producer is Derek John, Rachel Allen is our production assistant and Mary Jacob is our engineer. Our theme music is by Hanna’s Brown. June Thomas is the senior managing producer of Slate podcasts. And Gabriel Roth is Slate’s editorial director for Audio. Special thanks to ushe soldier and Sung Park. I’m Charles Duhigg. Thanks for listening.